Asking For A Friend by Abby E. Murray


Is there a way to tell
the commander’s wife
you’re a pacifist
and it’s possible
to trust your spouse
but mourn his work
because the death
he’s delivered
through the cracks
of thatched rooftops
is more than a fracture
beneath his skin
and the flag is a reminder
and gravel is a reminder
and pins and ribbons
and coins and the smell
of diesel and buildings
without doors are a reminder
and you won’t secure
the gold battalion crest
over your left breast
no matter how many
times she tells you
it’s like a sweetheart pin
and the last thing
you want when
your father is found
dead in his duplex
is an email asking when
she can drop off
some meatballs in sauce
and you can’t stop
swaddling your brain
in yesterday’s Times
to see what city has fallen
as if they topple
rather than burn
and you refuse to stop
reading and doubting
until no one makes sense
and every deployment
is a Talking Heads song
and every morning
is an invitation to dance
in a pill bottle
and you’re not interested
in keeping busy
and you don’t want
more group texts
and you don’t want
your daughter learning
to shoot a rifle
with the other kids
who aim at a silhouette
of someone’s son
tied to a haystack
and you don’t want
to host a dress swap
before the gala
and you don’t want
a souvenir photo
with the bald eagle
and every time
the commander says
let’s thank our ladies
you want to toss the table
champagne flutes and all
and watch all the favors
you’ve done to prompt
his gratitude go flying
because you’ve tried to say
war is necessary
but the words are like
spiders in the shower
they have every right
to be there and yet
you are crawling up
the side of yourself
trying to get clean
without howling
and you don’t want
to call them our boys
and you don’t want
to be called household 6
or a rock or a pillar
and the only commanders
you trust are the ones
who seem pained
by the movement
of their own bones
given to them
by their mothers
freely and without
any mental reservation
and it’s against your beliefs
to say things are fine
when the satellites
click and blink above us
unwilling to share
which target needs water
and which needs bread
and if anyone knows
a way to say this
without provoking
the commander’s wife
to roll a wide stone
over your spouse
and his career
let’s meet soon
I’ll buy you a beer



This poem is the winner of the 2018 RHINO Founders’ Prize.

ABBY E. MURRAY teaches creative writing at the University of Washington Tacoma and is the editor of Collateral, a literary journal that showcases writing about impact of war and military service beyond the combat zone. Her recent poems have been published in Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Rise Up Review.